Dr. Fred Bortz

Review of Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love

by Helen Fisher

(Henry Holt, $25.00, 320 pages, February, 2004)


Reviewed by Dr. Fred Bortz

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Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Want to know Why We Love?
Then just read this review.

Ah, Romance! Who doesn't savor that sensation of longing and intrigue that, when all is right with the world, unites two human beings as if they share a single soul?

Aww, Romance! Who doesn't curse that unwanted, overwhelming craving when the object of one's affection responds with disinterest or scorn?

Romantic love can be inspiring or painful. It can also be embarrassing, such as when its inspiration makes the love-struck believe that they are poets. They scribble Valentine's Day doggerel and offer it as if they are peacocks displaying their reproductive fitness, seeking the approval of mates.

That is one of Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher's many scientific conclusions in her fascinating and readable study of
Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. Her prose leaves no doubt that she delights in romance, both as a human experience and as the subject of scientific exploration.

Those seemingly contradictory motivations are, in fact, not in opposition. Ask successful scientists about their work, and most will respond with a passion so powerful that it can only lead to this conclusion: They love their research. They find it an unending source of fascinating questions, which they probe with delight, knowing that understanding will not destroy the mystery.

Dr. Fisher discusses her own research and that of others, drawing conclusions and offering speculation that will leave readers looking into their life experiences and nodding in agreement. Her studies began with a questionnaire to identify the symptoms of romantic love and the similarities and differences across the cultural, age, and gender spectrum. Functional magnetic resonance imaging studies then correlated electrochemical activity in the brain with romantic thoughts.

Much of the book discusses the relationships among the three forms of love -- lust, romance, and attachment -- and how each has contributed to our cultural and physical evolution. Taking a dispassionate look at passion, Dr. Fisher discusses the species-survival value of both fidelity and the roving eye, and how both traits emerge from romantic responses to others. She looks at whom we choose, whom we reject, and how we respond.

Readers see adoration and rage, the heights of joy and the depths of depression. They discover Dr. Fisher's prescription for making romance last and her faith in the triumph of love.

Ah, Romance! What a wonderfully mysterious outcome of evolution. It has made us humans what we are, and it will determine what our species becomes.

In addition to writing award-winning science books for young readers, Dr. Fred Bortz has been known to compose limericks and verse of dubious quality.